Spotlight: Health

Confusing Times for Women on Health Issues.  [United States] In the topsy-turvy world of women's health, Frenchie Perry has thrown up her hands.  Hormones were good, then bad, now good again.  Then experts fought over fat.  Now she hears they're reconsidering the bone-strengthening powers of calcium.  ``I think now, you don't know what to think,'' said the 63-year-old Palo Altan, shaking her head.  ``You're on your own.''   It's been a dizzying month for women after a series of major studies seemed to contradict traditional thinking about how to stay healthy.  Among the headlines: Low-fat diets may not significantly lower the risk of heart disease or some cancers.   Exercise might not change your chances of getting colon cancer.  Taking estrogen doesn't up the odds of heart disease, if you've had a hysterectomy.   And the chalky calcium pills may be for naught: They don't appear to help prevent broken bones.
Sorting Out the Results for Women.  [United States] The landmark Women's Health Initiative led to a sea change in doctors' and women's attitudes toward post menopausal hormone therapy.  Approximately 27,000 women participated in the initiative's trials of estrogen alone and estrogen plus progestin.  Here are some bottom-line recommendations for postmenopausal women from the Women's Health Initiative: No woman should go on hormone therapy to prevent heart disease.  Hormone-therapy products effectively treat moderate-to-severe hot flashes and night sweats and vaginal dryness in menopausal women.  If concerned about osteoporosis after menopause, women should talk to a doctor about taking medications other than hormone therapy to protect their bones.  Don't go on hormone therapy to prevent memory loss or Alzheimer's disease.
Women May Not Be Ready for Change, Despite Initiative Studies.  [United States] Diane Parker, 54, may have been surprised this month by research reversing long-held advice to middle-aged women on the health benefits of taking calcium supplements and eating low-fat diets.  She wasn't fazed by it.  Parker, an Elliott, Maine realtor, is among the target audience of the $725 million Women's Health Initiative, begun by the U.S. in 1993 to determine if lifestyle choices can prevent heart disease, cancer and other ills.  Upending accepted wisdom, the study last week reported that extra calcium in the diet won't prevent bone-weakening that can cripple elderly women.  The previous week, another analysis from the same study of 161,000 middle-aged American women found that reducing fat consumption won't lower the risk of heart disease.  What's a woman to do?  ``I mostly listen to my gynecologist, not my television,'' said Parker, who has an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a master's in biology from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.  ``I try not get overwhelmed by health news or the latest fads.''
Hormone Therapy: Making Educated Guesses.  [United States] 2002, researchers warned millions of older women that postmenopausal hormone pills were likely doing them more harm than good.  That study, the massive Women's Health Initiative, panicked many women into tossing out their hormones.  Now, researchers are poring over that - and newer - data to refine their understanding of the risks and benefits of hormones, especially for women who start taking hormones right at menopause, not a decade or so later.  Two studies published over the last few weeks and aimed at better understanding the role hormones play in heart disease are the first salvos in that scientific effort.  Both found that starting estrogen therapy at menopause did not increase the risk of heart problems, while starting later in life does increase risk.  In fact, there's a chance estrogen may even protect the hearts of those who take it early.  Two more studies are now enrolling women close to the age of menopause to explore the issue further.  It's increasingly clear that "a woman's age, or more specifically, the time since menopause, is an important factor in terms of heart outcomes on hormone therapy," said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.  Why would the timing of hormones make such a difference?  Because estrogen plays an important role in preventing some of the age-related buildup of plaque in artery walls.
Women's Health: A Little Progress.  [United States] Reading the latest reports about the possible medical benefits of estrogen therapy during menopause could produce symptoms of whiplash.   Women who were earlier told estrogen therapy might cause strokes now read that it could protect some younger women from heart disease.  Setting aside the general difficulties of communicating narrow scientific nuances, the latest reports on estrogen therapy are more of an evolution than a revolution.  But that can still leave people feeling puzzled, worried or even jarred.  Concerns about higher risks of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke have complicated women's decisions about hormone therapy options during menopause.  At least one expert said women wanting short-term relief from hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause should find reassurance in the latest study, which reanalyzed earlier data.  But other experts disagreed.
Female Gorillas Go Through Menopause.  [United States] They may not experience hot flashes, mood swings, or migraines, but female gorillas reach menopause just like human women do, according to a new study of gorillas at 17 U.S. zoos.   & quot;Menopause has typically been viewed as a strictly human phenomenon," said Sylvia Atsalis, a primatologist at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, who co-directed the study.  "Now we know that may not be the case."  The findings may not only improve the care of aging female gorillas but could also shed light on the human female reproductive cycle.
Chances a Low-Fat Diet Will Help? Slim and None.  [United States] The largest study ever to ask whether a low-fat diet reduces the risk of getting cancer or heart disease has found that the diet has no effect.  The $415 million federal study involved nearly 49,000 women aged 50 to 79 who were followed for eight years.  In the end, those assigned to a low-fat diet had the same rates of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks and strokes as those who ate whatever they pleased, researchers reported Wednesday.  "These studies are revolutionary," said Dr. Jules Hirsch, physician in chief emeritus at Rockefeller University in New York City, who has spent a lifetime studying the effects of diets on weight and health.  "They should put a stop to this era of thinking that we have all the information we need to change the whole national diet and make every body healthy.
Program Shines Spotlight on Women's Risk of Heart Disease.  [United States] Like many women in America, heart disease was the last thing on Carmen Dean-Jackson's mind.   But that was before a triple-bypass forced her into an abrupt crash course.   ''I had high cholesterol,'' Dean-Jackson said, ``but I had no symptoms that I thought could be caused by any kind of heart problem.''  Dean-Jackson, 67, a retired Miami-Dade public school psychologist who currently works as an event planner, has been passionate about heart disease awareness ever since her surgery.  ''I had open heart surgery three years ago, and ever since then I've been passionate about heart disease awareness,'' said Dean-Jackson, a Miami resident.  On Saturday Dean-Jackson was the honorary chairwoman for Take Heart, a seminar women held in conjunction with the American Heart Association at Macy's Aventura Home Store.  The event was arranged by the Greater Miami Chapter of The Links Inc., a national volunteer organization that's been in Miami for more than 50 years.
No Broad Benefit From Calcium Found for Women.  [United States] A large, seven-year study of healthy women over 50 found no broad benefit from calcium and vitamin D supplements in preventing broken bones, despite widespread endorsement by doctors for the supplements.  The study, whose results are being reported today, also found no evidence that the supplements prevented colorectal cancer, and it found an increased risk of kidney stones.  The study's leaders said there were hints of benefits for some subgroups in the study.  But the supplements' only positive effect in the overall study population -- 36,282 healthy women ages 50 to 79 -- was a 1 percent increase in bone density at the hip.  The $18 million study was part of the Women's Health Initiative, a large federal project that, last week, reported findings that low-fat diets do not protect against breast or colorectal cancer or heart disease.  In addition, the initiative's study on hormone treatment after menopause showed it had more health risks than benefits.
Male Circumcision Protects Female Partners From HIV and Other STDs.  [Uganda] A statistical review of the past medical files of more than 300 couples in Uganda, in which the female partner was HIV negative and the male was HIV positive, provides solid documentation of the protective effects of male circumcision in reducing the risk of infection among women.  Male circumcision also reduced rates of trichomonas and bacterial vaginosis in female partners.  The study is believed to be the first to demonstrate the benefits to female partners of male circumcision.  Specifically, male circumcision reduced by 30 percent the likelihood that the female partner would become infected with the virus that causes AIDS, with 299 women contracting HIV from uncircumcised partners and only 44 women becoming infected by circumcised men.   Similar reductions in risk were observed for the other two kinds of infection, but not for other common STDs, including human papillomavirus, syphilis, gonorrhea and Chlamydia.  According to the Hopkins researchers who led the study, Ronald Gray, M.D., and Steven Reynolds, M.D., M.P.H., the findings support efforts to assess male circumcision as an effective means of preventing HIV infection.  Circumcision is a practice common in North America and among Jews and Muslims, but not generally in Eastern and Southern Africa, Europe or Asia
Teen Girls Using Pills, Smoking More Than Boys.  [United States] Teenage girls, having caught up to their male counterparts in illegal drug use and alcohol consumption, now have the dubious distinction of surpassing boys in smoking and prescription drug abuse.  In the past two years, in fact, more young women than men started using marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes, according to government findings being released today.  The results are doubly disturbing, researchers said, because they run counter to trends indicating an overall decline in teenage drug use and because young women appear to suffer more serious health consequences as a result.
Plump Models May Actually Lower Women's Self-Esteem.  [United States] Waifish models have long been accused of setting unrealistic beauty standards and lowering self-esteem, however, a new study in the March 2006 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research reveals that, contrary to many assumptions, looking at moderately heavy models actually lowers most women's self-esteem.  "We demonstrated that exposure to thin models does not necessarily have a negative impact on one's self-esteem," explain Dirk Smeesters (Tilburg University) and Naomi Mandel (Arizona State University).  " On the contrary, exposure to moderately thin (but not extremely thin) models has a positive impact on one's self-esteem."
New Ovarian Cancer Therapy 'Promising'.  [ Australia] A finding that a variation in treatment greatly increases the survival rates of women with advanced ovarian cancer has been called a great step forward by Australian gynaecologists.  The finding that women survived an average of 16 months longer if anti-cancer drugs were injected into the abdomen has led to immediate adoption of the treatment in the United States.  The study of more than 400 women found that a combination of intravenous and abdominal injections of anti-cancer drugs, significantly improved remission and overall survival rates.
Younger Women With Hereditary Breast Cancer Risk Tumor in Other Breast.  [Sweden] Younger women with non-BRCA hereditary breast cancer are up to six times more likely to develop a new cancer in the other breast in the next 20 years, when compared with the general population, a new Swedish study finds.  "We did not expect this high rate of new tumors in the contralateral breast," said study co-author Dr. Henrik Gronberg, a professor of cancer epidemiology and biostatistics at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.   His team reviewed data from 120 families and 204 women with breast cancer and a family history of breast cancer, but not of the type caused by mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, also known to boost breast cancer risk.  Overall, the probability of these women getting cancer in the other breast was 5.5 percent at five years and up to 27.3 percent at 20 years -- about six times the expected risk at 20 years.  In comparison, the general population's risk of getting a primary breast cancer was figured at 1.9 percent at five years and 4.9 percent at 20 years, the researchers said.
Women More Prone to Headaches.  [England] Women get more headaches than men, due to reasons such as stress, poor posture and having cheese and red wine, says a study.   The nine-year-long study also said women were three times more likely to see doctors about headaches than men.  Martin Gulliford and fellow researchers at the King's College London studied consultations and referrals to specialists up to the year 2000 at 253 general practices in Britain, reported the online edition of Daily Mail.   They found 6.4 per cent of consultations were for headaches for women, compared with 2.5 per cent for men, the study published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry says.
Docs More Apt to Pen Headache Script for Women.  [England] Women are more likely to consult their doctor about headaches or migraine, and are more likely to come away with a prescription to treat the problem than are men, according to a study conducted in the UK.   Headache, including migraine, is one of the top 10 reasons for consulting a doctor and is the most common neurological symptom encountered by family doctors and neurologists, Dr. Martin Gulliford from King's College London and colleagues report in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.  Over a 9-year period in 253 general practices across the UK, there were 570,795 patient-visits for headache made by 413,221 individuals aged 15 or older, the report indicates.  Women were almost three times more likely than men to see their doctor about headache symptoms, and rates for both sexes were highest among people 15 to 24 years old. Visits to the doctor because of headache decreased with age.  During the 9-year study period, doctors wrote a total of 189,065 prescriptions for specific anti-migraine drugs, Gulliford and colleagues report.  These drugs were prescribed to about one in three women and to one in four men.
Abortions at Home are Safe.  [England] Women who are less than nine weeks pregnant can safely have medical abortions at home, according to the head of a government-backed pilot project.  Abortion services for the 20,000 women who seek a chemically induced abortion every year could be transformed should the Department of Health's official evaluation of the pilot confirm initial findings.  But it is also likely to provoke controversy from anti-abortion campaigners who will claim that home abortions would make the procedure easier and therefore lead to more women having terminations.
Sick Spouse Bad for Your Health.  [United States] Past research has shown that the spouses of sick people face higher risks of illness and death themselves - a phenomenon sometimes called the "caregiver burden" or the "bereavement effect".  But this study examined an extraordinarily large group of couples and also quantified the risk associated with a range of illnesses.  It found that the risk is considerable: Men were 4.5 per cent more likely than usual to die on any given day after their wives were hospitalised; women with sick husbands were almost three per cent more likely to die.  If the sick spouse dies, the partner's risk of death -whether from accidents, suicide, infections or pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes - shoots up fivefold, rising by 21 per cent for men and 17 per cent for women, the researchers said.